Author Topic: New Ideas...  (Read 11846 times)

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Xepher

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« on: May 14, 2006, 04:43:23 am »
Now that my job's over, I've been thinking about what to do here with Xepher.net for the past week. I've been torn between two ideas that I've had. On the one hand, I mentioned the idea of dedicated comic hosting. On the other, I've been wanting to write this CMS (content management system) that I've had in mind for a while as well. The CMS would basically be an automated website system, that would be highly customizable. It would be extensible/modular, but the base system would all you to have a comic automation system, complete with archives, automatic updates, rants, etc. a news/blog system, complete with in-browser rich text editor (aka "buttons to make things bold or change colors or add links") an art/image gallery system, everything complete with the ability for users to post comments, a threaded forum system, and other stuff... all of it integrated together, and full searchable. It would use the Smarty template engine (http://smarty.php.net) so that users could completely customize the layout and look of everything.

Now I'm thinking how to integrate this with xepher.net itself. The goal here has always been Free Hosting for Free Thinkers... or as I tried to explain that from time to time... Recurring, original, creative content. Thing is, I've always been trying to build this place into a community. Phase 2 I tried to drag more people together with the newsbox and featured sites and such. It hasn't worked out so well. For the most part, everyone's doing their own thing here... there's no centralization, no real community, save the few of us that actually hang around the forums here. So I looked around at what actually make popular community driven sites. Sadly, what I came across was DeviantArt, KeenSpace (Comic Genesis now), Yerf and that sort. Look at Yerf for an example. It's VERY simple. You can upload an image, give it a description, and people can see it. The centralization stuff is nice though, like the "Recent Uploads" page, which shows the most recent art from everyone. See something you like? Click that artist to go to their own gallery. DA's got stuff like "favorites" where an artist can actually point to someone else's work on her on page. Likewise, you can "watch" certain artists that you like to know when they update. The comment system is rather useful to, IMHO. It lets artists get feedback on their stuff, without having to jump through the hoops of a seperate forum. Keenspace/CG... If you've got a comic, it's simple, it's easy, it does archives, and you don't have to worry about keeping so much stuff organized.

Now, comics/art/writing... that covers about 95% of the content on Xepher.net I think. So why can't I integrate all those things into one system? Thing is, I think I can. Basically picture the Artica stuff I described, especially the modernation/karma/whuffie system, but combined with modules for comics, writing, news, etc. Add on the ability for each user to truely customize the layout of their own site, but still have things integrated, so that if they upload art to their own gallery, it'll show up site-wide in "new art" or in "watched artists" and all that other stuff. Same for stories/fiction, or new comics.

Bottom line is that I think I could write a really good CMS that would allow for both full customization/uniquness, while at the same time, keeping everything integrated. While over the past few years, I've intentionally shied away from such things, prefering to keep up the "traditional" hosting model, with no provisions at all for content management or anything, I come to realize that it's just not working that well. What's taking off are things that make life easier online. Most people would rather have a gallery they could update in a few seconds via their browser than having the full freedom to code and layout every single detail themselves. At least, that's how it seems to me.

So the question becomes, how would this work (or not work) for you guys... the users here? Would it ruin things or make them better?

P.S. I realize I may not be extremely clear here on how things would work. Feel free to ask questions or tell me where I confused you.

tickyhead

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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2006, 06:00:46 pm »
Well, one thing I'm wondering is, will this be an optional package? From your description it sounds like it'll be a part of EVERY xepher site to create a community feeling. That's good and all, but I'm perfectly happy doing things the hard way, really. Plus I get enough of deviantART-ish stuff from, well, deviantART. Sure lots of people are jumping on the "insta-art" bandwagon, but I like having a sense that I control my own website as completely as possible, and for me that only comes through lots of my own badly-written HTML and manual uploads of all my stuff. Not just the way it looks, (which according to you would still be enitrely flexible by way of smarty) but the way I MAKE it look like that. It's that extra few hours of coding and trial and error that says to me, "this is MY website. My little baby." Yes, okay, I have weird possessive issues, but that's not the point.

Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome idea, and a great way to create a stronger sense of community here, but I like having my own little bubble of webspace to fall back on.

Anyway, there's my two cents.
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reinder

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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2006, 07:44:19 pm »
A few observations:
Code doesn't make a community. Shared interests and personal ties make a community. The codebase on journalfen.net and livejournal is almost exactly the same; Journalfen hasn't even bothered to edit some of the default output from the LJ-codebase it uses. So on several sections you'll see things like "monkeyfart has x entries in his livejournal". However, Journalfen comes across as much more of a community than LJ is, because it's smaller, focused on fandom, and it has a barrier to entry in that you need an invitation to get a free account. Also, all the action, from what I can see, is in the community journals - individual journals more often have no entries, which is why JF can get away with leaving the word "Livejournal" on those pages.

Having said that, Xepher.net should be in a good positio to become a community site. After all, we already have a fairly narrow range of shared interests and a vetting system so that not everyone can get in. Innovative code can help enable the community to present itself better. But I don't think a CMS is the way to go. A CMS would have to be very good indeed to seduce me into switching from the CMS I use now, which has over 1300 episodes of my comic in it, and besides there are already so many CMSes out there. Unless you made it compulsory, I couldn't see it getting widespread adoption.

What I would suggest instead is toolkits that are abstract enough to work with existing CMSes. Something that would help collect the work of xepher artists, present it on the front page, possibly in thumbnail form, and also gather up comments and blog posts from those artists. RSS is very useful with that because a lot of us already have RSS feeds for comics, blogs and maybe even for comments to either comics or blogs, but for those that don't, an easy system for setting up feeds that the collection tools could use would also be useful. OK, that does count as CMS functionality, only it would be focused on RSS instead of HTML output.

The above is maybe not the most well-thought-out idea, but the gist of it is that it's probably better at this stage to let people build their sites however they want, and concentrate on stuff that makes it easier to share the contents.
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Xepher

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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2006, 12:16:30 am »
Good points all around. Both of you hit on the same key question... forcing people into a specific CMS (or whatever you want to call it) vs. trying to keep things tied together without it. That's the real debate in my mind, and I know for people experienced in web design and running a site (aka "ya'll") the idea of a "system" is rather confining. One of the things that made me do this in the first place was the limitations imposed on people by places like geocities and such. At the same time, the barrier to entry here at xepher.net has shifted to site design quality, rather than pure content quality. That is to say, I'm getting more and more applications from decent-to-good artists that are hampered (nay, crippled) by their lack of skill in the website department. As I'm sure you know, even the best art can be made totally useless by a horrible site. I used to be of the "geezer" mode of thought... that is "In my day, we had to code HTML by hand and we were LUCKY to have our own FTP username and you young'uns should learn to do proper interweb programming before you deserve to have a site!" But now I'm seeing that computers and the internet are less and less about the computers themselves, and more what you can do with them. The internet should "just work" not be something you have to decipher and study for years before it becomes a truely useful tool.

Heh... just realized what I wrote above. I'm basically echoing the debate between the classic "web" and this "web 2.0" stuff people are spouting. Do I keep offering "internet accounts" or do I start offering "community membership"? Because, I do realize that if I went the CMS route for Phase 3, it's really not the same thing as offering accounts like I do now. It's something I'm definitely going to think on for quite a while before I do anything.

Oh, and before everyone starts panicing... the same way Phase 1 accounts are still around, I plan to keep Phase 2 accounts around for as long as people are still using them... the only possible change would be the removal of FTP and MySQL services. Though, in truth, I think I've got a solution to keep MySQL around for a while longer yet.

Munerift

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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2006, 02:09:03 am »
I would use it, but I think it should be optional. I do have kinda an idea of meshing everything together though if you'll bear with me:

Xepher Page: Main page for Xepher.net
User Page: Each person's own website
User Community Page: Each person's own spot on Xepher's fridge.


Each user would be allowed to have their own thing going as they have been, however they would also have a community page with Phase 3. (say a place to show off their finished portfolio work, a biography and contact section, along with their own mini-command center for sending messages as well as "favorating" another artist's work that was also a member. I would keep commenting to portfolio pieces though; the main pages on other sites seem to get backed up with too much spam...)

This way they can still dance to their own drum, but would also have a central spot to be part of the community and have a place for a biography and a ready made portfolio to show off without too much work. I know I have stuff I'd like to save for showing others, as well as another den to keep not so cherished attempts at art.

The main page on Xepher would showcase the latest uploads within a 24 hour period. The recently uploaded images would pull from the member's porfolio pages, say everyone's portfolio art goes into a default "ART" folder; this is where the recent would pull images from. Now besides Xepher actually being the only news on the front page, mayhap pull updates from each person's own website (limiting to once a day or every three days or whatever....) with a link for other members to see that person's personal site/portfolio site..?

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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2006, 03:17:44 am »
I usually dont suggest things much in this forum, because I'm one of the people who is really inexperienced with web programming in general. I only recently started learning php (what an easy language as far as type and arrays go, geez), but I have to say that in the web v. web2.0 thing that seems to be going around lately, I have to agree with you about your seeming agreeance with the phenomenon.

Programmers have been dealing with these concepts for ages. Keep seperate parts seperate. Your graphics blitter doesnt have to know a damn thing about the routines that access a hard drive, or routines that calculate if an enemy is touching another one.
These concepts are segregated.. coherent if you will. and it's the same way with this stuff, someone shouldnt have to know web programming in the least bit to be able to share their art.

Sharing art is the problem we have to solve, in its abstract form. What is sharing art? Well theres a lot of code that has to be laid down before anything else.

i dont know what a CMS actually physically entails but if its nice and intuitive to use i'd say its a good idea, and should promote better artists to contribute

because they can do what they do: art. not web programming.
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Xepher

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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2006, 07:09:17 am »
Munerift... interesting idea, definitely something to think on. In the CMS idea, I would have plans for, shall we say, non-public folders/galleries/albums/whatever. Basically places (or tags you can add) where you can dump all your artwork, even the bad sketches and such, but it wouldn't be passed on to the community pages.

Cha0s: That is the idea, build a system that abstracts "web development" to something useable by non-techies. It's totally doable, and I think, small ego that I have, that I could do it better than anyone has ever done before! ;-) But the question remains, is that the way to go or not? Can a "system" -- with enough clever features and tricks (like I mentioned above to assuage Mune) -- get close enough to the (nearly) complete freedom that current sites have to be worth the transition?

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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2006, 04:22:46 pm »
Could it be made optional?  Some artists may already have sites and not want to give them up in place of a CMS, even though it may be entirely customizable.
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2006, 02:02:41 am »
In my experience "easily customizable" sites are rarely easy.

I've tried a few of those and they always end up looking like Myspace sites...ie. not good...and I'm a moderately decent webdesigner.

Anyways I don't think a DA like enviroment will help community awareness. Take it from me (as I'm one of the people absent from the forums. :( )

Maybe a group email inviting people to forum, like a monthly update. I, for one, know that sometimes I forget about the forums...and that's not right. In fact a monthly Xepher newsletter sounds like a great idea to me. Maybe some other community building ideas, like contests, voluntary art swaps etc...

Xepher

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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2006, 04:07:31 am »
Griever: Ticky asked pretty much the same question, but I guess I didn't really answer directly. I don't really see how it could "optional" for people choosing to partipate in that system. However, it may not be the only project I run. That is, I may split it off as a seperate project (a la Artica) keeping the traditional style hosting system as well. That's something I'm considering as well. If I do that route though, I will likely raise the minimum standards quite a bit for the traditional hosting. People would basically have to show reason why the other option (the CMS system/thingy) wouldn't be enough for what they want to do. Meaning they'd have to have a pretty complex and useful site design of their own, along with the content to flush it out.

Wolfman: First off, I don't think I said "easily customizable" I said "highly customizeable." Big difference there. :-) Template system would not be what I consider easy, as you'd actually have to understand webdesign, have some basic programming concepts, and not be afraid of raw code. I agree with you, that all the "easy" customization stuff usually ends up as "pick-a-color" systems, and not much more. People that can't do design are going to be fine with that anyway. But for people that have a moderate amount of design skills could (hopefully) still get their own personality into things and... there might be the option that once people start designing templates, even those who aren't good enough to make their own could at least have a much wider variety of designs to use, or have someone else help them design one.

Design issues aside (just know I don't want it looking like a bunch of myspace zombies) I do have to consider the fact that, even though you're not a forum "regular" you're still in the minority I mentioned -- that of people who can produce content AND a site to show it off. As of late, Hellbound is the second most popular site here. You're obviously getting your ducks in a row already, and as such, are really kind of above the class I'm targeting with the CMS idea.

The other ideas you mentioned, a newsletter, contests, etc... All those are options in consideration as well. Especially if I don't go for the CMS system, I'll definitely be trying to weave a tighter community out of the current system.


In my own head, I'm still thinking about the requests for the CMS to be "optional." I'm trying to figure out a (reasonable) way to have some of the integrated features without forcing people into a set system. All I can think of is stuff along the lines of the newsbox... that is, stuff that you "integrate" into your site where/how you see fit, but still connects things together. I'd want something at least for art/comic updates though, and that would mean people having to integrate some code into whatever gallery/comic/etc. systems they use. The problem is that would require a pretty decent level of coding skill, which I'm afraid is above the level of most people here. Heck, most people have trouble adding the newsbox, and that's just one line to copy/paste into code. Any brilliant insights here would be really appriciated. I'd love it if I can have my cake and eat it too. :-)

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« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2006, 04:23:02 am »
Ah, okay, thanks, Xepher.

I think that if you provided a management panel, where people could add/drop modules, and then fill in bits in a form that would generate code might solve some of the problems of inserting modules.  I'll point to Bravenet as an example...tons of people use their generated code successfully.
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